Examining Boko Haram's Expanding Nigeria Insurgency


Examining Boko Haram's Expanding Nigeria Insurgency

Emily Mellgard

09 Jan 2015

As the militant Islamist group Boko Haram continues its violent campaign in northeastern Nigeria, Emily Mellgard looks at three important reports analysing the Boko Haram threat.

The Nigeria Security Network's special report " North-East Nigeria on the Brink" published on 2 September details the territorial expansion of Boko Haram since the beginning of July 2014. It notes that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in a video message on 24 August, 2014, declared–possibly in an imitation of ISIS's declaration of a caliphate in June–that the territories under Boko Haram control would be ruled by "Islamic Law". The report warns that Nigeria is in imminent danger of losing control of the entirety of Borno state.

Nigeria is in danger of losing control of the entirety of Borno state.

Chatham House, in September, published a research paper, "Nigeria's Interminable Insurgency? Addressing the Boko Haram Crisis", which provides an excellent overview of the context and evolution of the jihadi group. Particularly, the report emphasises Boko Haram's adaptability, which has allowed it to remain relevant and grow over the years where most Nigeria-based ideological insurgencies lost momentum and died out, and resource-based insurgencies settled for the financial gain of the leadership. The report states the necessity to change the priorities of the armed forces strategy in the northeast; the protection of civilians must be paramount. The report also emphasises that while Boko Haram's activities occasionally traverse national borders, and the group utilises international jihadi rhetoric, the insurgency remains fundamentally a Nigerian security issue.

The Council on Foreign Relations Africa program's Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) has been updated to reflect politically motivated violence during August. The focus of the violence continues to be Borno state. Sixty-five percent of the deaths in August involved Boko Haram. The NST also records that Boko Haram has been seizing and holding territory, which they claim is now under Islamic Law and that they are using heavy weaponry–including tanks–in their operations. There are reports that Boko Haram has begun urging villagers to remain in the towns under Boko Haram control, rather than join the thousands of internally displaced persons.

Key Findings: Nigeria Security Network Special Report
  • Boko Haram, as of July 2014, is exhibiting increasing characteristics of a conventional army. This is a change in tactics from previous terrorist and guerilla phases of their insurgency against the Nigerian state.
  • The federal Nigerian government is losing control of large swaths of territory in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram is seizing and holding territory in areas where they previously conducted high impact terror attacks and large scale hit-and-run attacks. They are also destroying or defending infrastructure to secure the territory seized.  
  • There are indications that Boko Haram is surrounding Borno state capital, Maiduguri, in advance of laying siege and taking over that city as well. This would be a major symbolic and strategic loss for the federal government.
Key Findings: Chatham House Research Paper
  • While defined as an "International Terrorist Organisation," and while Boko Haram makes use of non-Nigerian Islamic extremist rhetoric and ideology, and it does not recognise the legitimacy of modern, secular, nation-state borders; the insurgency remains Nigeria focused. There remains no strong evidence of sustained collaboration or alliances between Boko Haram and other jihadi groups.
  • The Nigerian government's emergency rule of the three northeastern Nigerian states has failed to contain or dismantle Boko Haram.
  • Boko Haram has experienced numerous evolutionary phases, often catalysed by specific external events or attacks. These include the violent repression of the group in 2009 in Maiduguri, the national elections in 2011, and the consequences of the schoolgirl kidnapping in Chibok in April 2014.
  • Boko Haram has grown from 4,000 members in 2009 to 6-8,000 in 2014. There are 15,000 soldiers deployed to Borno state to combat them.
  • Tensions and conflicts during the February 2015 national election cycle are likely to be exacerbated by Boko Haram. Religion is likely to be used as a divisive political tool.
  • Foreign military involvement against the Boko Haram insurgency will likely exacerbate the conflict. Empowering Nigeria's neighbours may open them up for retaliation from Boko Haram, expanding the conflict further.
  • International, nonlethal support, including witness and defector protection and humanitarian aid are more likely to be effective avenues to aid Nigeria.
Key Findings: Council on Foreign Relations Nigeria Security Tracker
  • Nation-wide, 498 people were killed in politically motivated violence in Nigeria over the course of August; 65% of those deaths (325) were in incidents directly involving Boko Haram.
  • Boko Haram named the town of Gwoza, which they seized in August, the center of their "Islamic caliphate," in northeast Nigeria, declared on 24 August.
  • In addition to Gwoza, several towns have fallen to Boko Haram in August including: Bara, Buni Yadi, Marte, Gamboru Ngala, Dikwa and Bama (which was later recaptured by the Nigerian military) as well as several smaller towns along the Cameroonian border.
  • Boko Haram largely disregards national borders, violent clashes have occurred along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. The Cameroonian military claims to have killed over one hundred Boko Haram members in the Cameroonian town Fokotol.
  • The Nigerian security forces have regrouped in Maiduguri, making it the center of their operations after the fall of Bama. They claim to be "stabilising" and recapturing areas.

This report was initially published on 16th September. 

This article summarises an external report, and is not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 

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Nigeria Security Network
Chatham House
Council on Foreign Relations